Carter, Asa Earl (1925–1979)

By: Lawrence Clayton

Type: Biography

Published: June 1, 1995

Updated: May 26, 2021

Asa Earl Carter [pseud. Bedford Forrest Carter], segregationist, politician, speech-writer, and novelist, one of five children of Ralph and Hermione (Weatherly) Carter, was born in Anniston, Alabama, on September 4, 1925, and lived near Oxford. He attended schools in Calhoun County, Alabama. He married India Thelma Walker and had four children. Carter served in the United States Navy during World War II and later returned to the University of Colorado, where he attended naval training school in 1944. By the late 1950s he was in Birmingham, Alabama, where his political activities included hosting a radio show for the American States Rights Association and providing leadership in the Alabama Council movement. Later he founded the North Alabama White Citizens Council in Birmingham. He wrote speeches for Lurleen Wallace when she ran successfully for the governorship of Alabama in 1966 and was one of two writers said to be responsible for the words "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" uttered by Governor George Wallace. Although Carter is associated by the media with George Wallace and publicly claimed that he wrote speeches for Wallace in the 1960s, Wallace denied any association or collaboration. Carter ran unsuccessfully against Wallace in the Democratic primary for governor in 1970.

After his loss to Wallace, Carter gave up politics and left Alabama. He adopted the pseudonym Bedford Forrest Carter and assumed the role of a largely self-taught, part-Cherokee novelist named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, the colorful, uneducated Confederate general. Carter also wrote several books using a Cherokee Indian name, Gundi Usdi, which he translated as Little Tree. So complete was his break with his old life that it was not widely known until after his death that the novelist and the former politician were the same man. By 1972 Carter was in Sweetwater, Texas, where he used the resources of the City-County Library to work on his first novel, Gone to Texas (1973). The highly successful film version starring Clint Eastwood is entitled The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). Carter's residence during the writing of his three other books was St. George's Island, Florida. These books are The Vengeance Trial of Josey Wales (1976), a sequel to his first novel; The Education of Little Tree (1976, reprint 1986), a purported autobiography of his early years, considered his best book; and Watch for Me on the Mountain (1978), a sympathetic portrayal of Geronimo. Carter received various honors, one of which was an appearance at a Wellesley luncheon in Dallas in 1978 with J. Lon Tinkle, Barbara Tuchman, and Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey. Carter was a masterful storyteller whose prose style is characterized by sparsely phrased, often fragmentary sentences and fast-paced plot. The influence of the Civil War and his Cherokee heritage are evident, and from these he drew his themes of courage, honor, kinship, and blood-feud. He spent his last years traveling to promote his books, attempting to arrange for films of the last three of them, writing the screenplay for one himself, and composing The Wanderings of Little Tree, an unfinished sequel to his third book. In addition, Bruce Marshall, an artist from Austin, prepared illustrations for a volume of Carter's poetry. All of these efforts collapsed with Carter's untimely death. In Abilene, Texas, on June 7, 1979, he choked on food and clotted blood after a fistfight, and died; he is buried near Anniston, Alabama.

Birmingham (Alabama) News, April 20, 1970, July 4, 1979. Lawrence Clayton, "The Enigma of Forrest Carter," Texas Books in Review 5 (1983). Lawrence Clayton and Randall Parks, "Forrest Carter's Use of History," Heritage of the Great Plains 15 (1982).

  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Dramatists and Novelists
  • Fiction

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Lawrence Clayton, “Carter, Asa Earl,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995
May 26, 2021